While executive functions have been found closely related to creativity and thinking, the neuroscientific training for such functions has been regarded as difficult in widespread applications. However, based on the results of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning, research has indicated that reading aloud and simple arithmetic calculation activities could largely increase prefrontal activation. A recent study published in Thinking Skills and Creativity aimed to examine whether such training could improve students’ executive functioning, thinking and creative abilities.
Thirty-eight students from a junior high school in Taiwan participated in this study. Half of them were randomly assigned into a training group, the other half were assigned to a control group. Over four weeks on weekdays, the students received 20 fifteen-minute sessions. Students in the training group read aloud and performed arithmetic calculations in each session. There were three difficulty levels for the reading materials and the arithmetic calculations to provide an adaptive training procedure, in order to support activating their prefrontal cortex and increasing their motivation. By contrast, students in the control group played the game Tetris, which should have no effect on students’ executive performance. Activities for both groups were conducted through a computer application and the sessions were held in their school’s computer room.
Executive functioning assessments, thinking tasks and creativity tests were administered to students before and after the training. Students were also asked to describe their feelings toward the training on a 5-point scale. The results showed:
- Students in the training group did not differ from students in the control group in the executive function test
- However, students in the training group performed significantly better on the syllogism task (which measures thinking abilities) and the Chinese word remote associates test (which measures creative ability), compared to students in the control group.
- Students in the control group regarded the activities as more interesting and fun.
The authors suggested that this exploratory study presented a practical and economical method to activate junior high students’ prefrontal cortex in the school educational environment.
Source: Lin, W.-L., Shih, Y.-L., Wang, S.-W., & Tang, Y.-W. (2018). Improving junior high students’ thinking and creative abilities with an executive function training program. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 29, 87–96.